If you’re ready for zombies, you’re ready for any emergency.
They’re terrifying yet not real. They pose no threat, yet they have something to teach about wounds, first aid, self-defense and putting together a go-kit. And they look really cool.
Perhaps that’s why zombies have become the monster of choice for emergency preparedness festivals around the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the concept in 2011 with a tongue-in-cheek blog post (“Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse”) that went viral.
Now it’s Carolina’s turn as the office of Campus Safety prepares to unleash 20 zombies on the Pit from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 22, to attract attention to 27 safety-related exhibitors and a dozen demonstrations on real-life emergencies. The event coincides with National Preparedness Month.
“We wanted to do something big and something that was definitely going to grab the attention of our entire campus community,” said Justin Miller, emergency management coordinator.
Coming out of COVID
For the past two years, campus safety has been focused on getting out the word about COVID-19: encouraging vaccinations, booster shots and testing as well as putting up signage about wearing masks and keeping distanced from each other.
But campus safety was also upgrading its overall emergency responsiveness. In the summer of 2020, it introduced a new Carolina Ready safety app and launched a website that includes links to resources, computer-based training and safety guides for students, faculty and staff.
“We invested significant time during the pandemic to develop and distribute new emergency preparedness resources. But ultimately COVID communication took precedence and rightfully so,” Miller said. “So now that more are returning to campus, we’re utilizing this event to remind, and maybe educate for the first time, our students and employees, both new and returning, that these resources do exist.”
They wanted to share the information in a way that would be memorable yet not too scary, especially at a time when concern is high about mental health.
“One of the key components of our operation and program is to increase awareness about the importance of preparedness campus-wide. We want our campus community to know that they can be empowered with both knowledge and resources,” said Darrell Jeter, director of emergency management and planning. “We also wanted to be sensitive to the fact that it can be a hard conversation to talk about an active shooter event or a hurricane or some other natural or human-caused emergency or disaster. So why not prepare for the zombie? Then the zombie represents whatever that disaster emergency is.”
Zombies from Hollywood
Another reason to choose zombies is the fact that two well-known zombie makeup artists have headquarters only a half-hour away from Chapel Hill. Brothers Starr and Dean Jones co-own and operate the Original Hollywood Horror Show attraction in Snow Camp. Carolina has contracted with the company to create 20 zombies, including super-detailed “hero zombies,” scary monsters like the ones seen in movie closeups.
While the brothers are best known for their work on movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and operating the horror theme park for the past 30 years, they also do their share of emergency preparedness work. One of their biggest operations was a simulated plane crash that involved emergency responders across Alamance County, with sound effects, fog and smoke and realistic makeup for burn and wound victims. The brothers got their start in the profession when they were Eagle Scouts, simulating wounds for first aid treatment.
“We get notes on what to do for exercises based on mass injuries. And it goes over extremely well,” said Starr Jones.
The zombies for the event at Carolina are mostly to attract attention and won’t closely interact with the attendees. But some will be part of presentations, such as the “zombie bite bandaging and wound care” demonstration by Campus EMS and “zombie bite tourniquet and bleeding control” by student-led organizations Stop the Bleed and the Association for Carolina Emergency Response and Injury Prevention.
How it works
If you want to find out more about emergency resources on campus — and see zombies! — head down to the Pit area midday, pick up a festival “passport” and get it stamped at various tables that will be set up on the brick courtyard area surrounding the Frank Porter Graham Student Union and Student Stores. Then turn in your stamped passport for a free T-shirt and additional prizes.
In the event of inclement weather, the event will move inside to the Great Hall in the Student Union.
A bonus attraction for the festival is a live demonstration by the North Carolina Office of State Fire Marshal on Polk Place. At 12:15 p.m., a trailer containing simulated residence hall rooms — one with sprinklers installed and one without — will be set on fire to show how fast fire becomes deadly and how residential sprinklers can save lives.